More than two months since the Pentagon declared major combat operations in Iraq complete, the activist groups that preemptively mobilized to oppose the war continue to fight a rear-guard action to win the peace. Their latest focus: Whether President Bush, in the run-up to the war, misled the country by asserting that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The Win Without War coalition and MoveOn.org, two of the biggest antiwar groups, kicked off their new campaign yesterday with a full-page ad in the New York Times that labeled Bush a ''misleader'' and demanded an independent commission to determine the truth about US intelligence on Iraq. ''It would be a tragedy if young men and women were sent to die for a lie,'' the ad concluded.
Organizers say that the groups' members have reacted strongly to the ad, with more than 100,000 people going to MoveOn.org's website to sign up to help and more than $100,000 being raised to support the new campaign.
''This strikes a raw nerve to people involved in our coalition,'' said Tom Andrews, Win Without War's director and a former Democratic congressman from Maine.
Andrews' former colleagues in Congress have been more reticent. Democrats say privately they are angry at being allegedly misled about what evidence the administration had of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They have been cautious, however, about criticizing the president on foreign policy issues and say there is a possibility that chemical or biological weapons may yet be found. A few members of Congress have privately stated that they may seek a public inquiry into what the administration knew and when.
MoveOn.org's New York Times ad ran Thursday, June 19, 2003 (click on image to see larger .pdf image)
''One president said `I did not have sex with that woman' and he got impeached,'' said Representative Jose E. Serrano, Democrat of New York. ''Another president lied to the American people, to Congress, and to the United Nations about weapons of mass destruction, bombed a country and killed many people, [and] in the process we lost some of our own brave folks. And he's some sort of hero. What gives?''
The president made no mention of the debate over weapons of mass destruction yesterday during an appearance in Fridley, Minn., to promote his economic policy. He has stood by his warnings about Iraq, and consistently said he believes such weapons will eventually be there.
''The regime of Saddam Hussein is no more, America is more secure, the world is more peaceful, and the long-suffering people of Iraq are now free,'' Bush said.
No members of Congress have publicly asked for an independent investigation, though Senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who is running for president, has suggested that one may be necessary if the congressional intelligence committees continue to hold their hearings behind closed doors. The Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday held its first closed-door hearing on weapons of mass destruction.
Andrews' group wants an independent commission, he said, because ''people are angry and suspicious, frankly, of the Congress and not confident by any means that Congress will do what is necessary.''
In April, representatives from most of the 40 groups that compose Win Without War held a retreat at a conference center in Rhinebeck, N.Y., to chart the movement's future. ''We came out with a very clear direction, that we wanted to oppose the continued occupation of Iraq and we wanted to redefine what smart security would be, smart foreign policy, and we wanted to have an electoral plan, and as time went on . . . we wanted to hold Congress and this administration accountable for this war,'' said Susan Shaer, executive director of the Boston-based Women's Action Network for New Directions and a cochair of Win Without War.
In addition to the 100,000 who backed MoveOn.org's campaign, 71,000 faxed their members of Congress through TrueMajority.org, an organization backed by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. And more than 73,000 people e-mailed Senators Bill Frist of Tennessee, leader of the chamber's Republican majority, and Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Democratic leader, through Working Assets, a long-distance telephone company.
The group plans more print ads, as well as radio and television spots and demonstrations around the country, Andrews said, all aimed at pushing members of Congress to support an independent investigation into whether Bush lied about the causes of the war. The New York Times ad cited five Bush quotes from Sept. 12, 2002, to March 17, 2003, asserting that Iraq had chemical or biological weapons, or both.
''These quotes were used as the basis of an invasion of Iraq,'' Andrews said.
But critics of Win Without War say the group is on shaky ground by accusing Bush of deception, because the Clinton administration voiced similar charges against Iraq. The difference, they say, is how the facts as they were known were interpreted.
''For [Bush] to have lied presumed that he knew an alternative reality, an alternative truth, that he dismissed it, he hid it,'' said Daniel Goure, a military specialist with the libertarian Lexington Institute who worked on Bush's transition team on defense issues. ''What they're complaining about is the president looked at the evidence and said, `It's black, not gray -- certainly not white,' . . . This is an absolutely transparent administration that was very clear about its analytical approach, how they were going to judge these threats. It was absolutely transparent: `For the axis of evil, we're going to assume evil.' ''
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